March 2020 will go down as one of the defining moments for technology leaders in the United States.
IT executives who had well-grounded IT strategic plans (typically 3-year) with best practice IT governance oversight and well tested disaster recovery (DR) plans faired very well in the transition to near one hundred percent remote work for company staff. These CIOs and CTOs likely had a good mix of cloud computing solutions with redundancy built-in. If they had an on-premise environment with systems, applications, and data, then disaster recovery plans were well tested, involved non-IT staff, and had plans for all staff to work remotely for a period of time.
Organizations that truly prepared—from an IT perspective—for events like floods, fires, and hurricanes by default were better prepared for an unforeseen pandemic that dramatically changed the U.S. business environment nearly overnight. Why does this matter? Because the organizations that were prepared remained productive in a remote environment.
Technologies that aided in a smooth transition to fully remote work include: cloud computing (IaaS, SaaS, PaaS), encrypted remote access solutions (Citrix, Microsoft, various secure VPN technology), leading online meeting and collaboration tools, and the corporate hardware to use and maintain while staff worked from home.
CIOs that did not maintain an “all laptop/VPN” environment leveraged best-in-class remote access tools that can be run from home computers. Many deployed company-owned desktop computers and monitors (equipped with VPN software) to staff so that performance and productivity were ensured.
Lastly, CIOs that planned well had deployed cloud-based telephone systems to allow inbound/outbound calls while preserving phone numbers and extensions from any location.
On the flip, many CIOs were caught off-guard and paid a big price with regards to operational readiness and productivity in their organizations. The leading indicator for a failed disaster recovery plan targeted against a potential hurricane, fire, flood and yes, a pandemic is the surge in need for consultants once a disaster—or in this case, a declaration of remote work for all staff—strikes. CIOs that failed to plan for full remote work scrambled to implement and scale remote access solutions, cloud-based phone systems, etc.
For many who attempted to buy additional computers, laptops, monitors, and video cameras, the purchasable supply dried up almost overnight. The result was swift and impactful—productivity, revenue, and operational capabilities in those organizations fell off a cliff. Technology challenges in these organizations looked a lot like program trading during a major stock sell off—they fall further.
In the coming weeks after most organizations went remote, the public began to see the dire impacts of the CIOs who failed to strategically plan to keep their IT environment up to date and, most importantly, mobile. Several large public-school systems, even some near the nation’s capital, who had neglected updates to their learning management systems (LMS) and failed to procure necessary hardware and software to allow for online learning ultimately crashed. Many CIOs careers ended abruptly as a result.
To quote an old proverb that is definitely applicable: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”
Simply put, today’s IT leaders need to proactively think about situations that could dramatically impact their organization’s capabilities and strategically plan to mitigate them. The linkage between IT strategic planning and disaster recovery planning and testing is a tough lesson that many CIOs unfortunately learned during this once-in-a-century pandemic. For those IT leaders who properly, strategically planned and tested their DR plans: Congratulations. You get to keep your job and have proven yourself a battle-ready CIO/CTO.